A single question continues to linger in just about everyone’s mind—When will the COVID-19 pandemic end? The reality is that while the vaccination developments have proven to be a scientific success and an instrumental element to help begin putting an end to the pandemic, life will not return to normalcy anytime soon. While the Biden administration is continuing its push to vaccinate millions of Americans, we understand the importance of having children back in the classroom as soon as it is safe for schools to do so.
March of 2020 saw the beginning of states issuing stay-at-home orders. In the time since then, we’ve spent months studying Covid-19 and finding solutions to keep safe during the pandemic. At this point, we find ourselves having to continue to use these solutions as children and teachers re-enter the classroom—vaccinated or not. We know that wearing a mask, social distancing, hand hygiene and regular temperature checking are key to reducing a spread of the virus. A survey from Braun Thermometers revealed that 29 percent (over one quarter) of respondents hadn't checked their temperature even once since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic—an alarming statistic considering that a fever is typically one of the first symptoms of COVID-19 for those who are symptomatic. While fever is not the only indicator for detecting the virus, it is still necessary to monitor for this symptom to decrease the chances that you’re bringing coronavirus to your family, friends, or the classroom should you be infected. Even if schools are doing temperature checks on arrival I recommend that my patients do a daily temperature check with an ear thermometer (I use Braun!) as the ear is the most accurate site to check for fever and parents can feel confident in their child’s health before they leave the house.
We’re also continuing to see data suggesting that schools do not increase the spread of the COVID-19 virus. A study published in December found that in-person learning does not contribute to the spread, as long as infection rates are under control. Additionally, a recently published report from the child humanitarian aid organization UNICEF found that schools are not a main place of transmission, and that children are more likely to get infected outside the classroom.
The absence of in-person school has harmed children in ways beyond loss of academic learning. As a pediatrician and a mother who has interacted with hundreds of children during this crisis, I can see the social and emotional toll that the pandemic has taken on children. Millions of children across the U.S. are living through the most disruptive school year of their lives because of the pandemic, and as a result, they are at a higher risk suffering from failing grades, depression, and isolation. In Maryland, Washington Post reported in December that failure rates in math and English jumped as much as sixfold for some of the most vulnerable students in Maryland’s largest school system. In Texas, The Houston Chronicle reported in November that students across Greater Houston were failing classes at unprecedented rates. This alone shows that we simply cannot afford to wait any longer.
What is clear is that pre-pandemic normalcy is not returning anytime soon. We know the basic safety measures, and as long as people embrace these practices into their daily lives, we should be focused on getting our children back to in-person learning. In tandem with the vaccine rollout, it’s critical that everyone is educated about preventative measures so they can integrate such measures within their daily lives. Wear a mask, get to know your personal temperature (everyone has a different temperature range so knowing your number can help you better identify a fever), wash your hands and of course practice social distancing!! With everyone working together, we can get children back in school, where they belong.